'I never once saw her mistreat anyone'
The Film Society of the Lincoln Centre, the distinguished New York cultural centre, and the Mahindra Indo-American Arts Council have organised a retrospective of her films in New York from November 11 to 18.
Bhumika: Roles of Smita Patil has not surprisingly been well-attended by Smita's New York fans. Members of her family have traveled to New York from Mumbai to celebrate the event.
Her nephew Adeetya Deshmukh works at the McGraw-Hill School Education Group in New York. He spent his early childhood with Smita and her family in Mumbai. He called her Mityama and has named his infant daughter Zoe-Smita after his beloved aunt.
Adeetya shares his memories with Rediff.com's Arthur J Pais:
How many years did you spend with Smita and your family in Mumbai?
I spent the first several years of my life living with my grandparents in Tardeo (south-central Mumbai). I spent a lot of time with Mityama.
I moved back to the United States to live with my parents. But I did go back almost every summer for months at a time.
When I was in the sixth grade, I spent an entire year in India, going to school at Arya Vidya Mandir in Bandra (north-west Mumbai) and living with my grandparents.
Image: From right: Smita's younger sister Manya, Smita's son Prateek, family member Vrishali, Smita's elder sister Anita, Anita's sons Varoon and Adeetya, Adeetya's wife Katherine and daughter Zoe-Smita
Photographs: Paresh Gandhi
'I will never forget her radiant smile'
I remember living in our flat in Tardeo, which had a long verandah that my grandfather (Shivajirao Patil, a former member of Parliament) had filled with plants.
Mityama would put me on a tricycle and push me up and down the verandah as fast as she could while she screamed in joy.
I would ask her to keep pushing me back and forth and she would, until I was out of breath from laughing and she was out of breath from pushing.
Once, I was lying on the floor with a broken arm, and my grandmother in hysterics. I remember Mityama stroking my hair, looking into my eyes, smiling, and telling me that everything would be okay.
The warmth and radiance of her smile, I will never ever forget.
Nothing else in the world mattered when she would smile at me, hold me, pick me up, or give me a kiss.
I remember her smiling at me when I touched her belly. She told me I was going to get a little brother or sister, who turned out to be my cousin, Prateek.
When the time came for me to leave, I remember screaming, crying, and throwing tantrums.
I hated leaving her and not being with her. I loved her so much and I knew she loved me.
The last time I saw my Mityama was on an overcast and chilly afternoon in Hounslow, London, in late 1985 or early 1986.
I was heading back to America and I stuck my head out of the car and waved to her receding form as we headed to the airport.
What are the life lessons you have taken from Mityama?
I remember that how warm and affectionate she was to everyone, even during the height of her fame.
I never once saw her mistreat anyone or look down on them.
In a country like India where the less fortunate are looked down upon and exploited, she did the opposite by lifting them up and viewing them as equals.
It is something that I will never forget and use in my daily interaction with people.
The story that drives this point home is when after the completion of her flat in Bandra, Mityama sat on the floor and had lunch with all the workers who worked on her home.
Image: A portrait of Smita Patil at the festival's photo exhibition
Photographs: Paresh Gandhi/Rediff.com
'I knew she was doing something special'
I came to know about her prominence much later. I remember going with her on film shoots all over the country. It was really exciting to see so much of India at such a young age.
Many times, I didn't quite understand what she was doing. But I knew it had to be something special since she was always dressing differently and having people put makeup on her.
During one particular shoot, she was playing a high court judge.
While the scene was being shot, I sneaked behind her judge's chair and wrapped my hands around her in a huge hug.
I remember the director screaming 'CUT!' followed by the sound of her laughing.
Image: Smita's sisters Manya and Anita with actor Mohan Agashe at the New York event
Photographs: Paresh Gandhi/Rediff.com